begin our 2010 evaluation of the NFL with the AFC East and North.
trying to stay focused on just a couple of things for each club,
and when possible, offer a bit of outside thinking and perspective.
Hopefully… in a few cases… I’ll accomplish that and give you something
different to think about.
we actually dig into the teams, let’s get this right out of the
way… this division has me more confused and concerned than any
other. There’s something crazy going on here. Well… actually…
there’s alot of crazy here.
instance… Miami. Anyone else notice that in all of the cornerbacks
holding out… quarterbacks hating New York… don’t swear so much…
a cocky attitude is good… news being spun out there, no one seems
to talk about the Dolphins? Heck, when it comes to the 2010 season
and teams that could make the playoffs or teams that could show
improvement, I’m hearing more about the Texans, Raiders, 49ers
and Panthers than I am about the Dolphins. Everyone nods when
you mention them, or brings them up when mentioning playoff-level
clubs, but no one is discussing them in depth. And that’s in part
New York Jets. It’s like they have their own network… all Jets…
all the time. HBO. Football preview shows. Bandwagons are dangerous
things though. We’ll talk a bit about that in their section. But
check these concepts out: a quarter of their season involves Miami
and New England… their season starts with Baltimore and New England
at home, then Miami and Buffalo on the road (for those keeping
score, that’s three potential playoff teams bang-bang-bang, and
week two starts three tough divisional games bang-bang-bang, and
a quick read of the easiest of the four games shows it to be the
one on the road against a team that gave them fits in 2009)… Minnesota,
at Denver, Green Bay, at Pittsburgh are there (not easy games).
Now, as you kick all of that around and say something along the
lines of it not being that bad, let’s toss in that I didn’t mention
Houston and Cincinnati. See, those two are colorful teams that
are getting some play for this season. And New York faces them
back-to-back, at home, in the shortened-week Thanksgiving rush.
I just don’t see a place where you can comfortably be predicting
them to go 3-1 or 4-0 over a stretch of games. If they get to
9 or 10 wins, I think it’s going to be an impressive accomplishment
but in no way a dominating display.
oh yeah, New England. Which team will the Patriots put on the
field? Are they still too young on defense? Does the offense have
a chance of coming back to perform at unstoppable levels with
England (11 – 5) ~ Yup. Too many wins. I could see someone
the reality is, I only see one part of the schedule that could
cause problems… coming off their week four bye, they host Baltimore,
travel to San Diego, and then return home for Minnesota. I think
I may have them with too few wins. There are some tough games
there, and an early bye week, but for every battle against Indianapolis
there is a turnaround to face Detroit before or after that game.
It may not be an easy schedule, but it just doesn’t look like
it’s littered with landmines if they can return to the New England
teams that focused on games and not the distractions.
offense should be interesting to watch. Brady played fairly well
last year, coming back from an injury that sidelined him in 2008,
and while playing through a variety of other injuries. He’s now
got a pretty good chance at being completely recovered and rust-free.
A deep and talented group of wide receivers means that if they
can get just an average running attack going the offense should
be very good. Heck… they even seem to have tight ends that can
block and catch instead of either-or.
we turn our attention to the defense. And the reality is… forget
the arguments about young and old and crafty coaching. The big
things are sometimes the simplest. This is no exception. Tell
me about the defensive line. Injuries for this season and roster
changes in recent years have left them looking thin on the line.
If they don’t get pressure on the opposing quarterback, two things
are going to happen: (1) People like Mark Sanchez are going to
be standing long enough to read War and Peace, which
means they’ll be staying on the field for longer drives (even
if they aren’t scoring many points). (2) Longer drives means less
possessions for the Patriot offense, which means less points scored,
which means closer games… and if you want to have some fun, go
check out the Jets in 2009 and see how they did in close games.
(Ok… partial spoiler… in the regular season, only the Patriots
(in one the two games they played) and the Saints defeated the
Jets by more than 5 points. Yup… 9-7 and only twice were they
really out of it. You don’t want one-score games, no matter what
the point spreads tell you. Gives the other team too much of a
the Patriots can generate a pass rush, they’ll be an elite club.
If they can’t, they’ll still make the playoffs, but don’t expect
them to last long.
(10 – 6) ~ Beyond the backfield, there isn’t one thing
about the Miami Dolphins that excites me… and that works completely
in their favor. Because I’ve watched several of their games in
recent years, and it’s like they know their entire team has to
deliver every week or they’ll lose. It’s a simply brilliant team
effort, every week. They don’t panic when they get behind… they
don’t get comfortable when they have a lead… they just slowly
and methodically work at being ahead when time runs out.
Marshall is an interesting addition to this club. If nothing else,
simply because if you wanted to say he goes directly against that
team philosophy I just mentioned, I couldn’t really argue the
point. Instead of heading in that direction though, let’s match
him up with Chad Henne. See… I loved the wildcat once Henne was
starting. Because that’s when I saw the true beauty of it. Young
quarterback, in need of coaching and situational management, and
instead of calling timeout after timeout they would run the wildcat
and bring Henne to the sideline for a play or two. Brilliant.
Worked for them in a ton of ways, from forcing the defense to
adjust to the personnel and formation to the ability to work with
Henne on the sidelines. Now it’s a year later. And Marshall adds
a receiving threat to a team desperately in need of receivers,
at a point where Henne is looking to develop a bit more. This
could be an amazingly timed transaction where everyone in Miami
York (Jets) (8 – 8) ~ Maybe I’m giving New England too
much credit. Maybe they are too old and too young and playing
with a different mentality in the locker room that will never
be as focused as it once was. And in the same regard, maybe I’m
approaching New York with too much “beware of the team everyone
is talking about” on my mind.
thing is, I tend to believe two things about luck. First, you
can create it. And by that I mean that you can prepare for certain
situations… be better coached… be more disciplined… and even simply
be more talented. You can generate self-fulfilling prophecies.
Without babbling forever, you’re damn right it seems like certain
players and teams get lucky more often than others. Don’t be so
quick to dismiss it as a fluke. (Or the officiating.) And second,
many aspects of luck, even when you consider what I just said,
are flukes. Last year on October 18th, the Jets hosted the Buffalo
Bills. They lost in overtime, 16-13. They lost with 7 turnovers…
5 interceptions and 2 fumbles. They lost in overtime, and funny
enough, they couldn’t score in the second half. 13 points in the
first half. That was one of their losses. This season... maybe
it becomes a win.
to keep those two ideas in mind though, we arrive at a little
debate of sorts. Are the Jets likely to be more prepared, better
coached, or significantly more talented than teams like the Dolphins
and Patriots? No. I don’t think so. I believe both of those teams
will be equally… if not better… prepared and coached and talented
in virtually all areas.
if we eliminate luck as a result of being more prepared to take
advantage of opportunity, we are left with option number two.
Are we likely to see places where everything goes right and breaks
in their favor for no apparent reason other than it just did?
And for that one it is simply too soon to tell.
the Jets get Oakland and Cincinnati at exactly the right moments
last season? Perhaps… and maybe they won’t this year. Can they
beat the Bills, or this time will the Bills beat themselves? Again…
don’t know. On the flip side of that coin, I also told you a moment
ago that out of 7 losses, 5 of them were by 5-points or less.
Maybe they defeat Atlanta… maybe Miami doesn’t deliver that ridiculous
series of scoring with their offense on the sidelines… maybe they
will win 10… 11… 12 games.
it all comes down to though is this… I don’t think Sanchez is
ready to run an offense without a supporting cast around him to
provide help. And, while there are some reasons to believe their
running game will be good, I wonder if it will be as effective.
Rex Ryan knows as well as anyone… his Baltimore heritage considered…
what happens to the emotions of a defense when they are asked
to not only stop the opposing offense, but also score the points
to win the game because the offense can’t.
not predicting a losing season for the Jets. I’m just expecting
some speed bumps they avoided last season to turn against them
(4 – 12) ~ If they don’t go 0-6 against the division
I’d be stunned. Well… stunned is a tough word and probably isn’t
true… but there is a clear division between the first three teams
in the AFC East and the Bills, and there is no chance they can
split those contests. They will have a losing record in the division…
and a losing record for the year.
watch them carefully. Because the Dolphins, Patriots and Jets
could end up doing all sorts of funny things to each other. Miami
could sweep New York, then lose two to New England. In a division
that might have first and third place separated by one game and
a tie-breaker, a loss to Buffalo could be huge.)
Miami, Green Bay, New England and New York (Jets) lined up to
start the year, it is very possible they finish the first weekend
of October at 0-4 overall and 0-3 in the division. If that happens…
heck, once that happens… does it really matter against Kansas
City and Detroit and Cleveland?
could try to say more, but where would I start? This is a club
that is still looking for someone to replace Drew Bledsoe and
Doug Flutie at quarterback. And, frankly, I don’t think that’s
much of an exaggeration.
the AFC East had me the most confused and concerned, the AFC North
isn’t far behind. Is Pittsburgh out of it or a contender? Should
we believe in the Bengals? And then the Ravens… yeah… what about
what I can tell you… the only team in the division that I think
other clubs are taking seriously is Baltimore. Solid running game…
solid defense… and they should be fairly consistent every week.
All of the others it just depends. Pittsburgh could thump you
mercilessly… and they could roll over and play dead.
(11 – 5) ~ Ray Rice is the man. A game-changer. Whether
running the ball or catching passes, just one touch can completely
swing the flow of any contest. (Just ask New England about that,
focusing on their playoff contest from last season.)
that’s why I like Baltimore.
I wonder if they don’t have a bit too much attitude on the roster.
Anquan Boldin coming in to join some of those names from the defensive
side you know so well will give you those thoughts. But I don’t
think it matters.
I expect the offensive to have some 30+… 35+… 40+ point games
where everything goes right. I expect the defense to hold opponents
to 15 or less fairly often. And, I believe the times when the
defense fails and the offense sputters in the same game will be
rare. As in… oh… no more than 4 or 5 times.
is a club with a legitimate eye on the Super Bowl. All of the
team… offense, defense and special teams… will have to play well
for that to happen, because they don’t have the very best offense,
very best defense or very best special teams units. But, they
are capable of it.
(8 – 8) ~ Seriously… remember the comments about the
Pittsburgh team chemistry from last season, such as the ones about
Roethlisberger and his motivation to be on the field? Even if
those comments were misplaced and misguided and even misquoted,
the idea remains. If we chalk up some of the inexplicable losses
of last season to those elements the regular fans don’t get to
see, I can only guess that the recent off-season events did not
improve the old clubhouse for Pittsburgh.
Steelers have an interesting schedule. The only division game
they have without Roethlisberger (who, as of this writing, had
his suspension cut to four games) is against Baltimore. So that’s
he returns though, check out this stretch of five games… Cleveland,
at Miami, at New Orleans, at Cincinnati, New England. Two divisional
games and three really tough non-divisional games. Yeah, that’s
December the Steelers play all three divisional opponents, plus
the Jets and the Panthers.
story short… those opening four weeks are really, really going
to matter. And as I look things over, I figure they’ll be fortunate
to start off 2-2… with things staying just about even all the
way to the end of the year.
do not expect big things.
(8 – 8) ~ I’m not a believer.
take a look at Buffalo last year. I’m not saying this is accurate…
but I don’t think it’s insane to suggest that on the surface,
at the beginning of the 2009 season, the Bills combination of
Owens and Evans was as talented and potentially threatening as
the 2010 Bengals union of Owens and Ochosiesta.
and Evans played in all 16 regular season games and combined…
combined… as in, added together… combined they didn’t reach 100
and Evans played in all 16 regular season games and the two primary
quarterbacks on the team, Edwards and Fitzpatrick, barely cleared
I understand the arguments. Better quarterback here… better team…
so on and so forth. But umm… yeah… one football. I’m not amazingly
concerned as an opponent about this combination. In fact, I think
I’d game plan to entice them to throw to Owens to start the game,
hit him hard once or twice early, and then spend the afternoon
watching him short-arm everything else while I focus on Ochosiesta.
(Or, take a siesta.)
season the Bengals cleared the 20-point mark 6 times. Six… 6…
that’s it, six times.
I went on some more, I’d essentially be babbling. But what I can
tell you is I’m not a believer. Something is wrong here, and Cincy
isn’t as good as folks may want to believe.
(6 – 10) ~ The Browns will get a few wins, but there
are way more questions than answers in Cleveland. Quick… name
me one player on the Cleveland roster. Come on… tick… tick… tick…
that names are important. You probably don’t know anyone playing
defense for Miami and I think they’ll be fine. But the simple
fact is that this club is working toward the future and not the
present. In fact, the Raiders are probably closer to finding some
answers and getting to 8-8 in the next season or three than the